Why are some small marketers thriving in today’s competitive marketplace while others struggle? The answer is relatively simple — sound strategic planning. At the heart of every strategic plan is thorough analysis of company strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, or SWOT analysis.
The small marketers who are thriving today have learned to capitalize on their strengths, develop sequenced action plans to minimize or eliminate their current weaknesses, not only recognize but create opportunities, and develop a proactive game plan to survive impending threats. And savvy marketers have realized that they need to look internally and externally when doing their planning. This month we’ll share with you not only the process for success, but many of the success tactics used to thrive in today’s tough, competitive environment.
First, let’s start with external analysis of three areas: competition, economic and market factors, and finally legal and regulatory factors. When it comes to competition, the most interesting trend we are seeing is when several small companies get together to create a separate new company without ending or merging their existing company. The new company, which more often than not is in the form of an LLC, has a specific purpose. The two most common purposes are:
- fuel buying—to achieve volume discounts or to meet higher refiner minimum requirements.
- hauling services—to utilize drivers and trucks more efficiently, typically allowing marketers to divest of some equipment and substantially cut labor costs.
In essence, this strategy is the small marketers banding together to stay competitive with the big guys, without a true merger and the control issues that go with buyouts and mergers.
Next in the external analysis is looking at general economic and market factors. The most common success tactic in this area is diversification. The less dependent a company is on a single factor, the better.
Finally, marketers must look to legal and regulatory factors. Marketers who thrived because of onerous regulations were those who developed new businesses and profits from the regulations. When tank regs tightened, savvy small marketers beefed up their card lock marketing, created equipment companies to perform tank replacements, and environmental companies that made profits doing testing and education. Some wrote and sold software that helped other marketers avoid fines and penalties.
From external strategies, let’s move on to internal analysis and tactics. When it comes to taking a hard look at a company’s internal strengths and weaknesses, we use five areas:
- Organization and Personnel
Although many small companies tend to have the “poor little us” mentality that they can’t compete cost-effectively with the big guys, the successful small marketers again capitalize on strengths. In the operations area, fast delivery turn around time can be marketed at a premium as well as customized service. Examples of customized service include everything from the initial order to billing and invoicing data and procedures. Successful small companies have capitalized on finding and keeping those customers who are willing to pay premium prices to get exactly what they need in the format they need it. For instance, a customer wants you to call them to get their fuel order twice per week, and then have the delivery ticket dropped at a different location, and a statement set-up in a format specific to their accounting system.
When it comes to financial matters, one of the more interesting small company tactics was development of MAC financing programs. Spearheaded by small marketers needing access to cheap capital like the big guys get, virtually every major refiner now has loan programs easily accessible to the small marketer and served by a board of directors of small company owners.
The third step in internal analysis and strategies is sales and marketing. Old school thought in small companies was that the owner was the salesperson. Successful small marketers, however, have learned that trying to be everything to their company just doesn’t work and have hired on sales staff to dramatically increase revenue and profits. Cardlock companies, in particular, realized that telemarketing allowed them access to the entire nation, with the side benefit of reducing their market risk.
Success tactics in small companies also meant a change in attitude about marketing and sales. The most successful small companies today are not focused on commodity products, they are focused on customer service. That means having whatever products and services their customers want and need and pricing to market. Customer satisfaction and retention have become the benchmarks of success.
Just as customer satisfaction has become the benchmark of marketing success, employee satisfaction has become the benchmark of organizational success. Successful small marketers are investing in their workforce including vital communications training. In these successful companies, employees are focused on system and process improvement on a daily basis. Success tactics also include creating challenging job diversity as well as a formal succession plan articulated to all staff.
Finally, the most successful small marketers are investing in new technology. They have realized that automation is a tool to provide superior customer service. You won’t find the most successful small marketers behind the technology curve.
The good news is that with honest assessment and action, the small marketer can still thrive.